Amsterdam – more than coffee shops and canals
By Judy Darley
Stepping into Vondelpark just as the shadows began to lengthen, we immediately noticed the atmosphere pervading this city-centre green space. Barbecues sent fragrant clouds into the sky, and as the violinist packed up for the night, his spot was claimed by men and women holding cardboard placards offering ‘Free Hugs!’ in a variety of languages. We strolled the paths holding hands and smiling, feeling we’d somehow found a corner of the 1960s right here in current day Amsterdam.
But the thing with Amsterdam, as we soon realised, is that in the same way as it welcomes all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds, it also seems open to all eras and philosophies. Vogelpark sits just off Hobbemastraat, one of the most overtly creative areas of the city, with several of the world’s finest art collections just footsteps away. Armed with the IAmsterdam Card that allowed us entry to most of the museums, we spent hours exploring the Van Gogh Museum, absorbing aspects of the self-taught painter’s life and talent. On the other side of the aptly named Museumplein, the Rijksmuseum offers a broader array of mind-boggling creations, including several incredibly detailed dollhouses, and the Grandfather Clock by Maarten Baas, which resembles a real grandfather clock with a man inside, rubbing out and redrawing the clock’s hands every minute.
The magic of this area continued as we entered Restaurant Peter Scholte, the latest offering from dessert specialists Sucre. As we hoped, the dining room served up dishes designed to appeal to our imaginations as well as our tastebuds, from the amuse bouche of tortilla chips attached to toothpicks to resemble ship’s sails and served with puddles of horse radish dips, to the wafer-thin slices of rib-eye steak accompanied by a teeny tiny jug of gravy that looked as though it might have been stolen from one of the Rijksmuseum dollhouses. Our five-course chef’s menu culminated in two exquisite desserts, the indulgently playful Chocolate Box and the sophisticated Yoghurt soufflé with champagne sorbet. Heaven.
Amsterdam abounds with opportunities to indulge your mind and palette alike, and we also enjoyed a fantastic meal at Envy, where we feasted on a variety of beautifully presented small dishes – the perfect way to sample as many of the fresh flavours as possible.
We spent hours exploring unusual museums, such as the enchanting Our Lord in the Attic museum and eye-opening Anne Frank House (not to be missed). However, even if you don’t make it to these intellectual hotspots, you’ll find that just by meandering through the city, you’ll be treated to plenty of intriguing sights.
We found ourselves ogling the costumed creatures in Dam Square (a motley menagerie of werewolves, grim reapers and gorillas), houseboats with flourishing gardens and picket fences, the sweeping grandeur of the Oude Kerk and the Gothic-style Magna Plaza Shopping Mall with equal wonder. Plus did I mention that every window seemed to boast either a cat (essential rat catchers, apparently), or one of the famous Amsterdam girls?
Every street you walk down boasts architecture that would make it a tourist highlight in any other city, while the shopping options are endlessly enticing – I was drawn in to curio-art seller the Otherist where stock includes wrought silver squid and a collection of World War II era glass eyes (€38 each), the wonderfully named lingerie shop Stout, a large number of extraordinary antique book shops, and Puccini Bomboni – where artisan chocolates laced with flavourings and fillings such as pepper, thyme and rhubarb are laid out like jewels. The latter of these sits in one of the more refined areas of Amsterdam, overlooking the Singel canal and close to at least two of the city’s narrowest bookmark-thin buildings, as well as De Poezenboot, a floating cat sanctuary.
In this same area, we passed an Amsterdam girl, admittedly a more exotic specimen than those in the red light district, apparently singing to entertain herself within her glass presentation box. The sight surprised me into a wide smile, and she reciprocated, as though startled but pleased to find herself with an audience, if only for a moment.
Where to stay
Mint Hotel Amsterdam, 4 Oosterdoksstraat, 1011 DK Amsterdam
Where to eat
Envy, Prinsengracht 381, 1016 HL Amsterdam tel: +31 20 344 64 07
Restaurant Peter Scholte, Sucre, Hobbemastraat 2, 1071 ZA Amsterdam tel: +31 204701910
Where to shop
The Otherist, Leliegracht 6, 1015DE Amsterdam
Antiquariaat Kok, Oude Hoogstraat 14-18, 1012 CE Amsterdam
Puccini Bomboni, Staalstraat 17, 1011 JK Amsterdam
Magna Plaza, Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 182 Amsterdam
What to see
Anne Frank House, Prinsengracht 263-267, Amsterdam
Rijksmuseum, Jan Luijkenstraat 1, 1071 CJ Amsterdam
Van Gogh Museum, Paulus Potterstraat 7, Amsterdam
Our Lord in the Attic, Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40, 1012 GE Amsterdam
De Oude Kerk, Oudekerksplein 23, 1012 GX Amsterdam
Author bio: Judy Darley is a fiction writer and travel journalist. Her travel writing has appeared in magazines, on websites and in ‘1001 Retreats to Make Before You Die’, published by Penguin.
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